‘Prioritize prairie people’: Lubbock Rep. on Lesser Prairie-Chicken debate

Congressman Arrington says it could harm oil and ag industry, others say its crucial to save the chicken
Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 7:17 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The Lesser Prairie-Chicken’s population has dropped over recent years, prompting some to call for it to be listed as endangered. The designation would possible come at a cost to the agriculture and oil industry.

Jon Hayes, the Southwest executive director of the National Audubon Society, said the chicken’s population has decreased from one million to around 30,000. Hayes said that is because row crop farming and energy development in oil and wind have taken its habitat.

“All those things started to take away the habitat for this bird, to the point of where its lost about 90% of its habitat,” Hayes said.

Hayes stated he wants the Lesser Prairie-Chicken to be listed as an endangered species.

Lubbock Congressman Jodey Arrington said if it is put on that list, it would hinder investment in infrastructure and the energy supply chain.

“Which would hurt our domestic production and would raise the cost of electricity for consumers, gas for your vehicles,” Arrington said.

The Congressman added it could also harm the operations of farmers and ranchers.

Hayes stated helping save the birds has benefits for humans; the land management that comes with the designation would open up forage opportunities for cattle and protect top soil.

“All the things that we need to survive are the same things that the chicken need to survive,” Hayes said. “So, if we help this bird, we help people along with it.”

Arrington said it is important to put American’s needs first, meaning agriculture producers require more attention.

“We need to prioritize prairie people in rural America who produce our food, fuel and fiber over the prairie chicken,” Arrington said.

As for Texas, Arrington said there have been some conservation efforts by the Texas wildlife agency and the energy industry that has grown the population of the chicken.

“So, there’s no need to list it as an endangered species, unless you want to just lockdown production agriculture and energy production,” Arrington said.

Hayes agrees there have been some efforts, but he says it is not enough.

“The past recovery efforts was likely too little, too late. We don’t see the type of scale of investment or acreage that we really need,” Hayes said.

Arrington tells KCBD the U.S. House passed a repeal to it being listed as endangered, but he doubts President Biden will sign it unless there is pressure to do so.

It is currently unclear if the bird will be listed as endangered or not.